While the Sony hack is unarguably the biggest global Internet security incident of last year, 2014 was also dominated by hacking news in Vietnam, even though there were still encouraging points, such as the viral Flappy Bird mobile game.
On November 24, 2014, personally identifiable information about Sony Pictures Entertainment employees and their dependents, e-mails between employees, information about executive salaries at the company, copies of unreleased Sony films, and other information were obtained and released by a hacker group operating under the moniker “Guardians of Peace,” or “GOP.”
The identities of the hackers are currently unknown.
Beginning August 31, 2014, a collection of almost 500 private pictures of various celebrities, mostly women, and with many containing nudity, were posted on the imageboard 4chan, and later disseminated by other users on websites and social networks such as Imgur, Reddit and Tumblr.
Apple later confirmed that the hackers responsible for the leak had obtained the images using a “very targeted attack” on account information, such as passwords, rather than any specific security vulnerability in the iCloud service itself.
Hacking attacks, cyber-wars
Stealing the limelight of Vietnam’s hacking incidents is the allegedly targeted attack on VCCorp, a Hanoi-based firm that powers many famous local news websites, in mid-October.
Starting October 13, online newspapers including giadinh.net.vn, nld.com.vn, and dantri.com.vn – which operate on technology powered by VCCorp – and newswires operated by the company such as soha.vn, cafeF.vn, vccorp.vn, kenh14.vn and genk.vn became inaccessible.
The company told the media later that it had fallen victim to a targeted attack which hackers had spent half a year preparing for and invested some half a million U.S. dollars into.
But the real hacker(s) behind the attack that cost the company a daily loss of VND700 million to VND1.5 billion (US$32,947-70,602) still remains a mystery.
The year 2014 also witnessed many cyber-wars between Vietnamese hackers and those from Malaysia and China.
In early May, China illegally stationed an oil rig within Vietnamese waters in the East Vietnam Sea, triggering a strong protest from Hanoi.
Hackers took advantage of the tension to compromise Vietnamese websites, with more than 220 Vietnamese websites attacked, allegedly by Chinese hackers, in a week. Vietnamese hackers also reportedly fired back, fueling a cyber-war between the two countries’ hacking communities.
In early December, a cyber-war between Vietnamese and Malaysian hackers erupted following a football match at the AFF Suzuki Cup, where Vietnam secured an away victory while their fans were assaulted by a dozen angered Malaysian hooligans.
Extreme Vietnamese hackers compromised the website of Malaysia’s football governing body, whereas that of the Vietnam Football Federation was also downed in apparent retaliation.
Phones tapped, Gmail hacked
While many Vietnamese websites fell prey to hackers, local Internet users, particularly Gmail users, were also targeted when their accounts were stolen by cybercriminals.
Security Daily, a Vietnamese security website, reported in September that some 50,000 usernames and passwords for Vietnamese Gmail accounts had been exposed on the website of a forum in Russia.
These accounts were among the nearly five million Gmail accounts that had been revealed on the Bitcoin forum at btcsec.com, according to Security Daily executive manager Tran Quang Chien.
In yet another high-profile security incident, Hanoi police announced in June they had discovered that Viet Hong Company was selling an illegal phone tracking app, which had been installed on more than 14,000 Android phones, and manipulating the data its customers secretly collected from their victims.
The app, called Ptracker, allowed users to track other people’s Android phones, read their SMS messages and contact books, record their phone calls, and even turn on features like the camera, 3G or GPRS connections from the target devices.
But its customers might not have even known that all of the data they covertly monitored from the handsets had been transferred to the server computer of Viet Hong Co. at the disposal of the company’s employees.
Viet Hong Co. raked in nearly VND1 billion ($47,068) in illegal profit from selling the software, according to Hanoi police.
Shutdowns and breakdowns
The two most notable shutdowns in the field of Internet and tech in Vietnam last year could be nothing other than those of the Vietnam office of Yahoo, the erstwhile Internet giant, and haivl, the Vietnamese equivalent of 9GAG.
On October 25, haivl.com, which also allowed the sharing of humorous pictures like the American site, was fined VND250 million ($9,649) and had its license revoked for “severely breaching laws on digital content on the Internet,” only a fortnight after it was acquired by a local online ad agency in a shock $1.5 million deal.
Haivl.com, which had 4.45 million followers on Facebook then, was sanctioned because it had allowed its members to post and share inappropriate content, including false historical information or offensive stories about Vietnam’s national heroes.
As you read this story, the Ho Chi Minh City office of Yahoo, as well as its two Vietnamese-language sites, were already closed and shut down as the U.S. tech firm scaled down its operations over a tough year.
Yahoo said it has “sunset more than 60 products and services over the past two years” to “focus on the offerings that matter most to our users,” and the moves in Vietnam were part of the plan.
It should not be ignored that the undersea cable system that provides Internet connectivity to Vietnam ruptured three times in only two and a half months from July 16, slowing down and at times disrupting Internet in the Southeast Asian country.
The AAG (Asia Gateway Pacific) submarine cable system was cut off on July 16, and snapped again on September 15. On September 29, with the second rupture yet to be repaired, a third break was found on the same cable section.
With hacking and cybercrimes overshadowed the tech and Internet security industry in 2014, the story of Flappy Bird was indeed a ray of hope for Vietnamese netizens.
The world has not stopped talking about Flappy Bird since it surfaced as one of the most addictive mobile games in February.
Its creator, Hanoi-based app developer Nguyen Ha Dong, aka Dong Nguyen, reportedly raked in some $50,000 daily from in-app ads of the game, which had respectively garnered 50 million and over 10 million downloads from the Apple Store and Play Store as of February 6.
Flappy Bird was removed from both Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store by its creator on February 10, 2014, due to guilt over what he considered to be its addictive nature and overuse.
Although he failed to find more fame with the resurrected Flappy Birds Family, playable only on Amazon Fire TV, or Swing Copters, considered the Flappy Bird sequel, Dong Nguyen has become one of the top ten millionaires who made fortunes out of thin air, as chosen by entertainment news site The Richest.
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